Jisc’s head of FE, Paul McKean, digs out his crystal ball for what he reckons is coming to the sector over the next half-decade

Our vision for the sector over the five years to 2022 is for FE organisations to become digital by default, supported by a digitally capable workforce that understands the needs of employers and the jobs learners will need to fill.

Achieving this involves a commitment to digital transformation that some colleges have already embraced, and others must adopt or risk a struggle. Here’s an overview of the digital changes we predict for the next five years.

EdTech learning tools

Education technology (EdTech) will challenge more advanced learners, while enabling the less able to receive the individual support they require to succeed.

By 2022, national education technology strategies for post-16 education will be in place in England and Wales, with Northern Ireland likely following suit. As a result of these strategies, learners throughout the UK are likely to be supported by a myriad of technological tools, apps, simulations and virtual reality platforms.

Indeed, virtual reality tools will be increasingly used to save money, reduce risk and add excitement, for example enabling learners to “use” potentially dangerous machinery, hazardous or expensive substances in safety and to practise without blowing the budget.

Assessment technology

Technology will not only personalise learning, but feedback and assessment too, so that individuals can progress at their own pace and study where and when they choose, regardless of age, background or personal circumstance.

Formative assessment will mainly be carried out online via quizzes with instant constructive feedback, virtual observations or e-portfolio evidence, while summative and end-point assessments are likely to incorporate the use of technology as a way of reducing costs.

Learner expectations

Learners will expect “always-on” access to the internet and technology regardless of their location, or workplace environment, and to use a device of their choice. 

High-quality digital content and the digital capabilities of teaching staff will become major learner satisfaction indicators.

More feedback from data

Behind the scenes, data intelligence will inform strategic and operational decision making, particularly around teaching and learning support, pastoral care and curriculum design. Learning analytics data, for example, will detect when and for how long a student is engaging with the virtual learning environment, or whether work is handed in on time, and track attendance. Such information will make it easy to spot learners who are struggling and arrange intervention and tailored support.

Robust cybersecurity

Helping to provide this digital-first, data-led environment will be a digital infrastructure that also takes account of information security and the new (May 2018) General Data Protection Regulation

The sector must absorb the potential risks associated with implementing technology, to ensure security and business continuity. Robust cybersecurity policies will minimise the risk of breaches that could result in data loss, chaos and reputational damage and maximise user awareness of safe practice.

Technical education reforms

Across the UK right now, FE estate structure is already changing, with a shift toward bigger regional colleges, which have strong links with one-another, and independent providers and industry.

All of this adds up to a new era of collaboration and competition, where the most successful colleges will be those that use technology effectively to facilitate smooth and successful partnerships between themselves, students and employers.

Colleges will have developed stronger relationships with universities in order to deliver degrees and higher-level apprenticeships, or will have attained degree-awarding powers themselves.

Their investment in new facilities and equipment required to deliver these reforms will have been designed at the outset with technology at the heart of all operations, and transcending geographical locations.

Borderless education

The sector will be technically focused by 2022 and will also be looking to develop internationally. Technology will support global mobility of learners and the collaboration of colleges, following in the footsteps of many UK universities with established overseas partnerships.

The sector will have harnessed the use of technology to prepare learners for the world of work locally, regionally, nationally and globally and, in doing so, equipped them with the digital skills, knowledge and behaviours they require to live, work and play, safely and securely, in an ever-changing digitally focused world.

Paul McKean is head of FE and skills at Jisc